New York Theatre Review gives DUCKLINGS a nice review

clockwise from left Victoria Wallace

Clockwise: Victoria Wallace, Cristina Pitter, Quilan Arnold, Katchana Agama, Khalia Davis (Photo Credit: Ed Forti)

I didn’t have any preconceived notions going into Ducklings.  I just knew I wanted to see Amina Henry’s work because I heard she was amazing. And by God, Ducklings delivered.

Ducklings follows four women in a competing in a YouTube reality show to become Dancehall Queen of Pittsburgh.  I have a weakness for reality competitions a la America’s Next Top Model, not just for the ridiculous drama, but also the raw emotion that shines thorough, the bare-faced humanity heightened to a fever pitch. As articulated by the host Spider, “It’s a fuckin’ jungle out there. We’re hungry. Thirsty. We’re lonely. We need shit. Life is about filling needs.”

Like many reality show contestants, the women at the center of Henry’s play don’t have a lot of power in their lives, politically, financially, romantically—but the televised forum allows them the promise of escaping what they have been dealt. When they manipulate their bodies to the pulsating rhythm, they are transformed and transported, regaining a measure of autonomy s often denied them.

What distinguishes all of the women is a sense of resilience in the face of impossible odds.  Henry’s script sketches their lives in hilariously tragic detail, but they soldier on with rugged bravado and refuse to be pitied, trading throwing shade and trading Instagram posts like sniper fire.  There’s Rihanna P (Khalia Davis), who dreams of buying an industrial copy machine so she and her backwater boyfriend Lester can overturn the corporate hegemony from rural Michigan.  Bunny (Katchana Agama), the “good girl” works at a Walmart to support her son with cancer and previously appeared on Maury.  Rihanna T (Victoria Wallace) doesn’t give a shit about anything but launching her lip gloss line.  Donna (Cristina Pitter) is an assistant librarian whose family kicked her out and shows up for her interview not with a picture of her boyfriend, but the house she wants to buy with the prize money.

Director Christopher Burris has a ton of fun with the circumstances Henry has provided, and the actors fully commit to the wacky ride. There is a frenetic, giddy, energy to the staging, and choreographer Joya Powell manages to make every woman’s movement incredibly distinct and revealing.  Davis’s revolutionary Rihanna P punctuates her final routine with finger guns that would make Pam Grier proud, while Wallace’s Rihanna T completes hilariously unspeakable acts with a tablet computer.

One of the quirks of visiting Jack is the foil-covered walls, and Jason Folk’s lighting design of magentas and blues reflects against the silver to bathe everything in a funkadelic flair.  Set designer Christiana Teng and Andy Evan Cohen design pepper the production with whimsical touches—like Spider’s ringtone being the “Greed is good” mantra from the movie Wall St. Sabrina Bianca Guillaume costumes precisely reveal each character and her worldview, from Donna’s regal turban to Bunny’s feminine bob to Rihanna P’s bright gold body suit and voluminous curls and Rihanna T’s frosty pixie and stringy neon leotard.

On a personal level, it’s also a thrill to see a story that is not my story and to enter into a world that is not mine but fully alive and accessible.  It’s important as theatre makers to continue to diversify the stories that we see and put ourselves into unfamiliar situations.  For a rare occasion as a theatre-goer, I was very much in the minority as a white person, which was an educational and important experience not just as a critic, but as a theatre maker and educator.

I don’t know whether Henry began this play before this political moment, or how much of it was rewritten afterward, but there is a familiar sense of desperation, bewilderment, and seething rage that undercuts every interaction.  They’re all in survival mode, but with wildly different strategies.  For some it’s political anger, for some it’s spiteful apathy, for others it is a Pollyanna-ish cheeriness. This desperation is embodied most soulfully in Pitter’s Donna, a returning competitor from the previous year, who becomes dismayed as she learns the contest orchestrated by Cole Taylor’s oily host Spider may be less than fair:  “All of my dreams, everything I want out of life, is wrapped up in this competition,” she cries. “And now – my whole life is based on – what now?!”  I remember feeling similar sentiments in the months following the most recent election. When your life is upended by forces outside of your control, what is the appropriate, most ethical response? And what if there isn’t one and you have to accept the darker underbelly of the world, of your own nature?  Do you rage against the machine or do you resign yourself and strive to get as much as you can? “Whatever, America,” Rihanna T shrugs, “What fucking ever.”

Ducklings

By Amina Henry

Director: Christopher Burris
FEATURING: Katchana Agama,  Quilan Arnold, Khalia Davis, Cristina Pitter, Cole Taylor, Victoria Wallace
Choreographer: Joya Powell
Set Design: Christina Tang
Lighting Design: Jason Fok
Sound Design: Andy Evan Cohen

Costume Design: Sabrina Bianca Guillaume

Location:

JACK

505 1/2 Waverly Ave, Brooklyn NY 11238

Dates/Times:
Thursday, May 25-June 10

Wednesday-Saturday at 8 PM
Tickets: $18

 

http://www.jackny.org/ducklings.html

http://newyorktheatrereview.blogspot.com/2017/06/shaking-it-in-dancehall-like-nobodys.html?m=1

Ducklings is coming, May 25, at JACK!

Rehearsals are underway for DUCKLINGS which opens at JACK on May 25, 2017.

Ducklings

Katchana Agama (Bunny), Victoria Wallace (Rihanna T), Khalia Davis (Rihanna P), Cristina Pitter (Donna). Photo taken by Amina Henry

Ducklings2

1st read-through! (from left to right) Katchana Agama, Khalia Davis, Victoria Wallace,      Cole Taylor, Cristina Pitter, Quilan Arnold

Written by Amina Henry (moi)

Directed by Christopher Burris

Choreography by Joya Powell

Stage Management by Kendra Lee

Design Team

Set Design Christina Tang

Lighting Design Jason Fok

Sound Design Andy Evan Cohen

Costume Design Sabrina Bianca Guillaume

FEATURING

Katchana Agama

Quilan Arnold

Khalia Davis*

Cristina Pitter

Cole Taylor

Victoria Wallace

*Appearing courtesy of Actors Equity Association

at JACK

505 1/2 Waverly Ave, Brooklyn, NY

(btwn Fulton St & Atlantic Ave, take C or G to Clinton-Washington)

Thurs – Sat, May 25 – June 10, 2017 @ 8 pm

Tickets: $18

jackny.org

Necessary Exposure Exhibit at Dixon Place

I’m delighted to accompany many other female playwrights in an exhibit curated by Jody Christopherson at Dixon Place. Check it out if you’re in downtown NYC!

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This shot was taken in the 14th Street Union Square subway station by Jody Christopherson.

Martha Goode recorded an excerpt from my play The Animals for Itunes sound installation that accompanies the portraits here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/necessary-exposure-female/id1014603301?mt=2

 

http://dixonplace.org/performances/necessary-exposure-the-female-playwright-project-2/

National Winter Playwrights Retreat

I just got back from a lovely several days in Creede, Colorado at the 2017 National Winter Playwrights Retreat, hosted by Creede Repertory Theatre. it was my first writer retreat and now I want to go on them all the time, every month, every week! For several days I was allowed to do what I rarely give myself the time to do – rejuvenate. Surrounded by snow and silence, I was able to simply “collect my thoughts” which resulted in tentative pages for a novel, revisions on the first draft of my play RED REFRIGERATOR and exploratory pages for my new play COLUMBUS STREET. It’s actually crucial for an artist to be able to collect thoughts. I was also able to see and comment several readings by other playwrights, bond with fellow artists, drink beer in a bar that doubles as a laundromat, do yoga while watching CNN and MSNBC online, go to the Mining Museum, go on a tour of Creede Repertory Theatre, and go on a local tour of the mountains. It was all quite lovely and I’m super grateful. Now – back to work. So much work to do.

 

To learn more about the retreat, click here:

http://www.hbmgfoundation.org/foundation/writers-retreats.aspx

DUCKLINGS at JACK in 2017

I’m both delighted and frightened to admit that I’m going to attempt to produce another play. My play DUCKLINGS about a dancehall queen competition (but really about the American Dream, class, gender, and sexuality) has production dates at JACK, the lovely venue that hosted THE ANIMALS. We go up in 2017, the last week of May and we’ve got 9 performances. Boom. Eek. Wow. Quack? I guess I’ve got to start getting my team together and raising some money… speaking of which, if anyone would like to donate to Table Theater, my little company, by all means. All donations are going towards the production…

https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=11818

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